Superstorm Sandy convinced me that I should do something new: raise
money toward hurricane relief. If it weren't for the ease of nudging my
friends and family to contribute by way of social media and online
fundraising tools, I'm not sure I would have done it. I do know that I
wouldn't have been as successful.
I have regularly donated in the
past, particularly when people I know are raising money for cancer
research, youth programs and other charities in connection with a
marathon, a triathlon or some other big event. But I've never raised
money myself. I didn't want to feel as if I had to run because I was
trying to raise money, or that I had to raise money to guarantee a spot
in a sold-out running event. I wanted to keep the two completely
The storm that devastated my city and lots more up and down the East Coast changed my thinking.
Sunday after Sandy made landfall two weeks ago, I was supposed to run
my 50th marathon in New York, 10 years to the weekend since I had run my
first marathon, also in New York. It would have been a celebratory
affair. Then Sandy came along, and after days of intense debate, the
marathon was abruptly canceled. I channeled my energies instead toward
raising money for relief.
Of the several sites I could have used
to organize my fundraising campaign, I chose Crowdrise because I could
link my efforts with a broader campaign by the marathon's organizers to
turn the event into a Race to Recover. These and other sites make it
easy to choose a charity to support and send appeals to friends and
family. The sites handle the credit card transactions and tax receipts,
and they forward the money to the charities, after taking out processing
After signing up for a free Crowdrise account, it became
clear it wasn't just a fundraising site, but a social network for
raising money. When you join a cause, you are grouped into a team with
others. Those teams are grouped into larger campaigns - in my case, the
New York Road Runners' efforts to raise hurricane-relief money for a
dozen local and national charities.
The money I raised was added
to the team totals, so I could see the cumulative impact of our
individual efforts. Some campaigns let you see their totals, too. A few
thousand dollars might be a drop in the bucket, but the millions
collectively raised by people like me made a bigger difference. I could
browse the site to see what strangers supporting my cause were doing. I
could also see what other causes they were raising money for, whether
related to Sandy relief or not.
If you're thinking of getting
involved, for Sandy relief, cancer research or any other cause, here are
some tips. Many of these steps also apply if you're using other
fundraising sites, such as FirstGiving and Razoo.
Create or join a cause
get started, I simply visited the New York Road Runners' Crowdrise page
for Sandy relief. I could make a donation without signing up if that
was all I wanted to do. I simply had to pick which of the dozen
charities should get my funds and provide credit card information.
I wanted to raise money myself, I created an account and browsed
through the listed charities. Some were devoted to restoring parks after
the storm. Others were targeted at feeding people or rescuing animals. A
few were broad relief organizations, such as the American Red Cross. I
chose a local group that would disperse funds to where the needs are,
The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City.
The process is similar
for other groups and events. United Airlines and the Equinox gym, for
instance, are running similar campaigns for Sandy relief. You can create
your own fundraising campaign as part of a 30th birthday celebration or
a bike trip across the country - people you know would try to raise
money for your selected cause, not your bike trip! There's even one
connected to a college football game next weekend between archrivals USC
and UCLA (in that case, for cancer research).
If I weren't
already part of an event, I could have simply clicked "I'm a Fundraiser"
to search for a cause and raise money as an individual. Crowdrise
already has a list of more than 1 million recognized charities, using a
database from GuideStar, a research organization specializing in
nonprofits. It won't let me create and raise money for a Buy Me a New
iPad charity. For that, I'd need Kickstarter, Indiegogo and others that
emphasize fundraising for personal projects.Send out appeals
given a fundraising Web page, where you can describe the need and make
your plea in your own words. Too lazy? Simply keep what's already there.
You can also add photos - such as those showing the devastation left in
Crowdrise has a bunch of tools for sending out
appeals using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or plain old email. I ended up
posting my own links on Facebook because Crowdrise's 420-character
limit conflicted with my tendency to ramble. For Twitter posts,
Crowdrise's tool would shorten it further to comply with Twitter's
140-character limit. Those limits do not apply to email, but a test
message through Crowdrise's system ended up in Hotmail's junk folder.
I encouraged my friends and family to spread the word,
even if they weren't able to give themselves. Many contributions came
in that way, as people reposted links on Facebook or got in touch with
others through email. I reconnected with a college classmate in the
process and saw contributions from a friend's dad and from someone who
used to babysit me as a toddler.
As my direct appeals (read:
spamming) faded, I simply added a link to the bottom of my outgoing
emails. It's there as a reminder, but also out of the way.Track your progress
trickled in following my various appeals. Crowdrise sent me a
notification each time and recommended "dropping everything you're doing
so you can send a personal thank you."
From your account, you
simply hit a "Send Thank You" link next to each donor's name. There's a
"Thank All Donors" list, too, if you're lazy. I preferred the personal
touch. In some cases, I sent thanks through email or Facebook instead,
though Crowdrise won't mark those people on your list as already
thanked. (FirstGiving and Razoo send automated thank-you notices, though
you may personalize those automated messages.)
I initially set a
goal of raising $1,285, or $26.22 for each of the 49 marathons I had run
(26.22 is the number of miles in a marathon to two decimal points). An
orange bar on my fundraising page showed how close I was to the goal. I
hit that in four days and increased the goal to $2,622. I returned to
the site now and then to check on my progress.Network and give
I hit that initial goal, I started responding to other appeals on
Crowdrise. I gave to one friend's campaign for the American Red Cross
and to another for a Brooklyn group that was trying to recover from the
storm in time to serve Thanksgiving meals to the needy.
mentioned before, Crowdrise is more than a one-time transaction. It gave
me the option of posting a notice about my donation to my Facebook
profile, so that friends seeing it might give, too. Receipts I'd need
for tax deductions are easily accessible from my account.
And on each fundraising page, including mine, is a huge button inviting donors to raise money for that cause, too.The Catch
tries to put the "fun" in fundraising. Getting people to part with
their money isn't easy, particularly for ongoing needs that aren't
revolved around a crisis continually in the news. Two weeks after the
storm, many people have moved on. Contributions are slowing.
Crowdrise does make it easier. I know that I'm more likely to give - and
give more - when I'm supporting a friend's direct appeal. I love seeing
that orange goal bar move closer to the 100 percent mark. I can only
imagine that it's influencing others in a similar way.
is that Crowdrise charges a fee on each transaction, at least 5 percent
of the donation amount. Other fundraising sites do so as well, and when
you're giving directly to a charity, there are similar amounts taken out
for credit card processing and other costs. Crowdrise gives donors the
option of paying a separate processing fee - but doing so does nothing
to increase the amount going to that particular charity. Rather, the
for-profit startup says it keeps the money so that it can reduce fees
That said, I'm reaching out to people who normally might
not have given, either because they weren't thinking about it or didn't
know whom to give to. Others might have given more knowing that I'm
supporting the cause. So those extra donations more than cover the